Just over a month ago, I decided to do something about my financial fitness. Keeping a budget? Not my strong suit. So, I signed up for a financial health check. Here’s what happened.
My husband and I are polar opposites when it comes to budgeting. He tracks his spending in a spreadsheet, plans ahead for all major expenses, ALWAYS packs his lunch and waits until he logs at least 500 miles in his running shoes before buying a new pair because he doesn't want to waste money. I'm more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants-because-it-will-work-out-somehow kind of gal. I leave lunches in the fridge because lunch delivery sounds better, and love treating people to coffee, buying cute clothes for our daughters, going out with friends and having the latest and greatest triathlon gear. Opposites attract, right?
Before the Financial Health Check
I decided it was time for some “adulting” when I started my new job, so I switched to BECU in March and took over the childcare bills, car payments and meals. (In the past, my husband simply covered everything from our joint account.) For the first few months, I wondered why I hadn't switched years earlier. The money arguments stopped, I took some of the pressure off my husband, and nobody nagged me when I decided to splurge on dinner with friends. But I didn't track when the bills hit, overdrew my account multiple times and started carrying a credit card balance. After buying gifts for family and friends over the holidays, I wondered how I'd made such a mess in just eight months. I felt embarrassed and irresponsible.
I'm not an undisciplined person. As a competitive triathlete, I carve out time to train six days a week. I eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and diligently log everything I eat and drink in My Fitness Pal so my triathlon coach can see how my diet is affecting my training. But when it comes to my financial health, I'm an undisciplined weekend warrior who doesn't take care of her equipment.
Adulting, Part 1
I had heard about a BECU Financial Health Check; and it sounded like something I should try. I knew I needed help developing a plan to pay off my credit card, and I wanted to improve my financial fitness. So, I scheduled a Financial Health Check (FHC) on Jan. 31, 2018.
The morning of my appointment, I was nervous and sweating as I scrambled to finalize my budget spreadsheet. (Note: you can quickly and easily fill out a budget sheet using Money Manager, but I manually calculated my monthly spending, which was time consuming, stressful and totally unnecessary.) The spreadsheet highlighted my Amazon impulse buys, love of take-out lunches and careless approach to money management. My cheeks burned as I got ready for my phone call. I couldn't stop thinking about how ridiculous my spending habits made me look.
The Financial Health Check
Cea from the FHC team kicked off the call by reiterating my three financial goals: 1) building my savings, 2) setting up a household budget and 3) never again overdrawing my account. I nervously cracked a few jokes about my lack of financial discipline, but Cea kindly reassured me that I was taking a big step to improve my financial wellness. She also told me that our conversation was completely private. Her kind voice and complete lack of judgment immediately put me at ease. We walked through my goals one by one and Cea familiarized me with the tools available in Online Banking that would help me achieve them. We focused on making small changes, so they're manageable and sustainable. Here are my three big takeaways:
- Automatic transfers build your savings. I knew setting up automated transfers to my savings account would help, but worried about the times when I needed the money for other things. And I didn't want more overdraft charges. Here's the thing: when you set up automatic transfers, if you don't have enough money in your account (even by $1), the deposit is skipped. Cea encouraged me to set up small transfers at first and reassess in three months to see how it was going.
- Creating spending categories makes you accountable. Money Manager already sets up spending categories, but Cea encouraged me to create more specific ones, like lunch, child care and triathlon spending. After you create new categories, they apply to future spending and appropriately categorize automatically. This has already helped me make some changes. Seeing a week in January where I spent $50 on lunches encouraged me to start bringing my lunch 80% of the time.
- Alerts can keep you from overspending. At the end of my FHC, Cea showed me how to sign up for alerts to stay on top of my account activity. I now receive texts when I spend a certain amount of money, and I get an alert when my checking account balance gets low. In just the first week, I noticed that a refund was delayed and was able to plan around a major expense. Perhaps best of all, alerts let you know right away if there's fraudulent activity on your account so you can protect yourself.
After the Financial Health Check
Doing a FHC didn't turn me into the meticulous budgeter that my husband is, and it didn't stop me from spending frivolously (my daughters needed cute new sundresses and flip flops for our vacation!) but thanks to Cea, I've made changes that are already bringing me closer to achieving my financial goals. That 30-minute phone call decreased my stress level, increased my accountability and left me feeling empowered.
Check out becu.org/financialhealthcheck to learn more, sign up and email if you have additional questions. What do you have to lose?